INTERVIEW: BPO concertmaster, Nikki Chooi, prepares for a special challenge this week

20 October 2021

The BPO is back and better than ever with in-person performances! As a kick-off this month, we chatted with concertmaster, Nikki Chooi, who will have a turn at one of the most difficult pieces in the violin repertoire, Brahms’ Violin Concerto, on October 23 & 24. In this Q&A, we caught the inside scoop on this musician’s illustrious career and just what people can expect upon their return to Kleinhans Music Hall.

Can you share some background on yourself as a musician?

I was born and raised in Victoria, BC and started playing music through the Suzuki program. What began as an extracurricular activity became an important part of my life and education. I pursued further studies at Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School. Some of my musical heroes I admired growing up included cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Kyung Wha Chung.

I am fortunate to have a wide ranging musical career. Over the last decade, I’ve performed as soloist with orchestras around the world, performed recitals and collaborated in chamber music, was a member of the multi-genre ensemble Time for Three, and concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. I am also active as an educator, presenting masterclasses at various institutions. I am currently a part-time professor of Violin at the University of Ottawa.

What makes Brahms’ violin concerto so special/challenging? What was the experience of preparing for this performance like?

I first watched the Brahms Concerto performed by Itzhak Perlman and the Philharmonia Orchestra on TV when I was 10 years old. I remember telling my teacher at the time that I wanted to learn it immediately. However, I was told to wait a few years to increase my hand size and stamina. I finally started working on it at age 13.

The Brahms Concerto is a massive work. I describe it as being equivalent to a symphony that happens to feature the solo violin. The uniqueness of this piece is that though it is large in scale, there are moments in which it feels like chamber music, when the texture clears out and the violin converses with individual instruments in the orchestra. There are many beautiful melodies that listeners will love, displays of virtuosity from the soloist and orchestra, and an exciting and catchy theme that makes up the last movement.

What are you most looking forward to about this performance?

I am most looking forward to stepping out of my “concertmaster” role and shouldering the responsibility of being featured surrounded by my wonderful colleagues at the BPO.

Also, being able to perform a masterpiece such as the Brahms Concerto is a privilege, and I am thrilled to be able to share it with our audience.

We’re so thrilled that the BPO is welcoming live audiences once again! What can audience members look forward to and what is it like for the musicians to welcome audiences back to the hall?

It is really wonderful to have our audience back at Kleinhans. We musicians are communicators, and having an audience to play for is the very essence of what we do. With this upcoming performance, I hope the audience will look forward to the drama, emotions, melodies, and harmonies that are communicated through the music we play. And I would like to encourage the audience to keep on clapping. I might have a surprise encore up my sleeve..!